Stop hating on Facebook's 'evil' algorithm

At least twice a day, I get the same question from people coming from all different industries: "Did the algorithm really change? How did it impact you? How are you getting around it?"

They are, of course, referring to the mysterious Facebook algorithm, which has become the most feared series of calculations, perhaps in the history of the Web. And in some ways, rightfully so — millions and millions of dollars depend on it. Businesses and livelihoods come and go, depending on what can sometimes appear to be random, arbitrary changes. Just as search marketers look for every change in Google's algorithm that could affect clicks and conversions, today's digital publishers rely on Facebook's algorithm for a significant portion of their traffic. They've encouraged their fans and customers to join them on Facebook to discover stories and interact with their content, so it's critical they can continue to reach them effectively.

ViralNova's most-clicked post was about artist Andre Amador. The title was, "A Man Takes A Single Rake to The Beach. And When You Zoom Out And See It ... Mind BLOWN." It clocked in with a whopping 15 million page views:

Source: Andre Amador | ViralNova

That's where the challenges — and sometimes frustrations — come into play. But rather than thinking of the algorithm as an arbitrary — or evil — robot, I challenge all of us to look at it differently.

Maybe the algorithm is your friend.

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As social publishers, instead of an "us versus them" mentality, we should be asking ourselves, "What is the purpose of the algorithm?" It's a pretty simple answer.

Though I don't work there, I would venture to say that Facebook works every day to get the right content in front of the right users. If they fail at this task, their users won't be happy, and Facebook could run the risk of losing parts of its audience. Assuming Facebook's algorithm works as the company wants it to, if your content isn't as visible as it once was after a change is made, it's because users don't want to see your content anymore, or at least not as often. That's the harsh truth.

The knee-jerk reaction, which I hear all the time, is, "But my fans LIKED my page. They want to see it! They should see it!" While this is certainly not false, it's only partially true. Your page likely represents 1 percent of what that user has liked on Facebook —– and that's not even counting their real-time friends whose updates take up a significant portion of the newsfeed. The competition for a spot in the feed is fierce and there's only one way to win — help Facebook show your great content to the right users. That's what Facebook wants. That's what digital publishers should want, too.

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Ask yourself, "Who really wants to see my content? Who is actually engaging with it? And why?

Facebook is constantly building tools for publishers to answer these questions more accurately and react accordingly. When Facebook introduced the ability to target organic posts, it's because they want you to use it. Every single post in every single user's feed is important. If the algorithm, as brilliant as it is, has to "find" the right audience out of a broad base that you've blasted your content to, it may lead to unhappy users and potentially wasted paid impressions.

Facebook's ultimate goal is for every single post in every single feed to be the perfect one at the perfect time. Remember that.

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When you start looking at the algorithm as working for you, it shapes how you view your own content and distribute it. Once you do so, you will no longer be the screaming preacher on the corner getting positive attention from one person while annoying 100 others. Instead, you can fine-tune your content and message to exactly the right people. This precision — at scale — is more powerful than any marketing opportunity in history.

As Facebook continues to evolve, publishers will, too. But at the end of the day, we want to reach users that legitimately love our content and will engage with it. When you realize that's precisely what Facebook wants, too, you can stop worrying about the "evil" algorithm — and treat it instead as a useful tool to build a long-term, loyal audience, a brand, and a business.

Commentary by Scott DeLong, CEO of viral-content website ViralNova, which has 100 million unique monthly visitors. He is also the creator of and Nothing Toxic, a viral-video site that he later sold. Follow DeLong on Twitter @scottintheworld.

Disclosure: DeLong owns shares of Facebook and ViralNova is a longtime Facebook advertiser.